Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monster Mayhem: Fantomenos Brings 30 Stories of Terror

Fantomenos writes in about his favorite, The King of the Monsters

My favorite monster? Easy. Godzilla. No hesitation. I remember watching him electrocute the smog-monsters babies on our tiny B&W TV. I remember the cartoon (with Godzuki...), and I remember the Marvel comic. Godzilla has been a constant in my life.

oh, jeez.  The Champions.  Well, Godzilla doesn't need my good luck wishes.

But, my clearest Godzilla memory is from the Christmas of 1979, at age 5. We lived in Sitka Alaska, which means that our X-mas wish lists were made with catalogs, well in advance. This year, the Sears catalog featured a line of plastic Shogun Warriors, maybe 2 feet tall with missiles and shooting hands etc. For some reason, Godzilla was one of the members of the line. Wheels on his feet, a lever in the back that would extend a small flame-painted tongue, and his right fist shot when you pressed the button in the crook of his elbow. Remember, safety regs weren't what they are now, so this was a hard piece of plastic that shot out pretty fast.

If only King Ghidorah would reach out the same way...

This item immediately shot to the top of my X-mas list, in the "get me this and I won't ask for anything else" slot. But, $5.00 was way to much for my parents to spend on a "hunk of plastic". My B-day follows X-mas by about a month, and again no Godzilla. But, I had received enough money (Grandparents and such) to send away for it myself. So I did.

Oh, Hanna Barbera.  The theme song to this show was awesome.

And it was magnificent. Pride of place in the toy chest. Totemic. I had also received this book:

kids, this was what passed for blogging in the 1970's

very '70's. Write your own book about yourself. Here's where the compulsive geekiness first rears it head. I put it together that if I can write a book about me, and Godzilla is the most important thing about me, it stands to reason that I should write "My Book About Godzilla". Which I immediately set about doing. Measuring his height, the length of the flame tongue, and most crucially, how far his fist could shoot, checking the distance of shot after shot. I remember it being around 5 feet, but that could be Proustian reverie.

So there it is, my first attempt at creative writing, being a completely uncreative compendium of facts about my favorite toy. Where'd Godzilla and his hagiography end up? No idea, we were a military family, and my parents were ruthlessly unsentimental about things. The late 70s were a weird time.

A League afterword:  I had this same Godzilla toy, and it was exactly as awesome as Fantomenos describes.  I once convinced this little German kid who moved in down the street that the thing was alive and would attack him because that little German kid was annoying.  Anyway, his mom came down and yelled at me in German.  It was traumatic, but certainly not the last time I would be yelled at by someone in a language other than English.  

Godzilla is currently in the attic of my folks' garage, and I have plans to retrieve it over the holidays.  However, Jason and I both believe that the missile fist may be missing.  I will send photos when Godzilla resurfaces.

Here's the cartoon intro:


Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Week Review: Harbor Moon (not yet released)

I was fortunate enough to recently receive a review copy of an independently produced comic which will be released next year by Arcana, sent to me by one of he writers of the comic, Ryan Colucci.

Harbor Moon is a graphic novel in the truest sense of the term.  Colucci and company did not originally release the comic as a series of issues, and its great to read a comic that flows based upon the needs of the story rather than upon the artificial stopping points necessitated by a 22 page release format.  Instead, the story unspools much more with the feel of a film script, and given the fact that Colucci actually works in film, it doesn't seem like a huge stretch to guess that this is a project he was happy to see materialize either as a comic or a movie.

Likely the first thing to grab someone browsing the shelves and looking at this comic will be the art.  Three artists are listed:  Pawel Sambor, Artist; Karol Wisniewski, Art Director; and Nikodem Cabala, Supporting Artist.  I have no idea who did what work of the three as those are unusual job titles in comics, but this is also an unusual and striking book.  Its a pretty wild mash of traditional illustrative comic book with what appears to be water color enhanced with some CG.  I have to guess that page layout was done digitally, which works perfectly well.

The style has definite, vague echoes of McKean, or late-80's Sienkiewicz and  John J. Muth, or even Sam Keith's more expressionistic work in The Maxx, without ever feeling particularly derivative.  It just has that same ability to capture a mood with washes and tones and experimental use of color and line, which does what comics can do best, and that's use the art to enhance and relay the narrative rather than just illustrate a script.

I invite you to jump over to the Harbor Moon gallery page to take a look at what these guys did.

As with the artists, there are three writers listed on the comic, and its hard to know who contributed what.  Ryan Colucci, Dikran Ornekian and Brain Anderson all receive writing or story credit.

If you're looking for these things or tend to notice them, there's definitely a sense of the cinematic to the writing, and I can't exactly put my finger on whether its dialog or a very filmic pacing to the events that made me think "movie", but its not distracting.  Instead, the flow of the story does seem to work in a sort of slow-boil mystery as circumstances reveal themselves and the facts of what's happening in the strange, small town of Harbor Moon, Maine reveal themselves.

Harbor Moon isn't exactly a horror story, although there's certainly elements of more than one horror sub-genre to be found within the comic.  Is it a potboiler as Tim uncovers the mystery of the identity of his absentee father and why everyone in this small town denies knowing him?  Is it a supernatural mystery?

The characters of Harbor Moon are well defined, if not grippingly original.  It fits the subgenres put together here, and I think the conclusion is more than satisfying.  While scripting occasionally feels like it could be a bit punchier, where things could have swung into melodrama or the plot could have bogged down and become frustrating as the answers are slow to reveal themselves (while other mysteries bubble up), I think there's a lot to like here, and I suspect Colucci and crew have ideas for sequels to this comic that would do wonders for exploring the premise they've established.

I was impressed with the ability of the writers to create different paces and tone within the story, really bringing the reader in to Tim's perspective and the seeming chaos which erupts, then pulling back in the investigative and character building moments (with the artists following suit).

Spoilers ahoy

Okay, so...  This is a comic in which we find out there are populations of werewolves out there.  And not necessarily the cuddly werewolves of the vampire books that shall go unnamed.  Its a genre I like to see explored, especially in comics where your budget isn't a limitation, nor is CG modeling, and the artist's imagination can really cut loose.  And I think we see that here.

Unfortunately, I think the reveal isn't a huge surprise if you're up on basic horror genre tropes.  But the execution of how the werewolves in handled is unusual in appearance and solid in narrative and story, as is the other challenge to the lead characters.  But it does raise the question of why the story is slow to reveal the werewolves if the writers didn't do more to obfuscate clues and, I have to say, mention the werewolves in their press materials.

Likely one of the biggest challenges Colucci will face as this book hits the shelves is that there are echoes of Clive Barker's Nightbreed, especially as we hit the third act.    How many people remember that movie or book is an unknown variable, and I certainly don't believe that Colucci's story is a rip-off but I think horror-genre fans could make the comparison and neither material would suffer for it.

Spoilers end

Harbor Moon is a fun read, and I sincerely hope that this book gets noticed upon its release.  I placed the artwork as the first item to discuss as there's no question that very little else that appears on the shelf has a look as potent as what the team here has assembled.  While the visuals are a huge draw, the story and characters are well defined and interesting enough that its a great new entry for the horror and mystery genres in comics, and the kind of storytelling that comics can do remarkably well when a team like the creative team here puts their minds and backs to it.

This isn't a comics game-changer, but it will be interesting to see who discovers the book as it seems the appeal would extend to the general public pretty handily. 

The Harbor Moon website.

There, you can see lots of preview pages, look at the press kit, etc...

Randy gets in the game: RHPT names a Monster

It's our own RHPT (aka:  The Amazing Rando!).  I don't know what else I can add here:

I don't know if this is a favorite or least favorite, but the one monster(s) of which I am deathly afraid are zombies. I know zombies are, along with vampires, the pop-culture 'it monster' of the moment and maybe that's the only reason I am writing about it. Who knows? But with the profiliation of zombie movies, comics, games, tv shows, etc. It's something that has made me think: 'What would I do if a zombie apocaypse broke out?' Now, if I were a single man with no family, this wouldn't really bother me so much. I would use a zombie apocalypse as a reason for some guilt free violence, get some free and cool loot (all the iPads I can haul, baby!). Ultimately, I would die or get turned, but you know it was fun for a while. (I would probably travel to Austin to see how the Steans made out).

well, at least this means people really took a strong liking to you, in a way

However, I have a wife and a small child (soon to be 2 small childs), and I can't just go with the flow of the apocalypse. Granted, would I want my children living in a world full of zombies? probably not. but then that would just leave me with the unpleasant choice of killing my family to avoid their suffering, and who wants to think about that?

So yeah, zombies man.

Jason's Entry for "My Favorite Monster" and one for "My Least Favorite Monster"

This right here is our first entry into the Signal Watch Halloween Monster Madness.  It's not too late to send in your own favorites!  For more information, click here!

But let's start with the guy who sent in the first bunch of crazy creatures, my own brother, Jason.  Now, Jason sent in a list with these really detailed descriptions and pictures, and then wrote back a few days later, apparently having reconsidered.  Here's what we've got.

1) Audrey 2, Little Shop of Horrors

Jason sometimes sings to the shrubs in his backyard hoping they'll sing back
Audrey 2 not only feasts humans and their blood, but also has one of the most soulful, groovy singing voices in this half of the Milky Way.  Audrey 2 is a plant who's fun enough to make it worthwhile to sacrifice a few humans for high protein fertilizer. And haven't most of us had at least one or two moments when it might not have seemed like such a bad idea to feed our dentist to a singing plant?

2)  Junior Gorg, Fraggle Rock

The missing Steans Brother
 Son of Ma and Pa Gorg, the self proclaimed king and queen of the universe, Junior Gorg spends much of his time doing chores, hanging out with his friend, Geraldine (who happens to be a large raddish), and trying to capture Fraggles who sneak into his family's raddish garden.  Junior Gorg keeps things simple, but he generally seems pretty happy, and he seems pretty content with his lot in life- hanging out and waiting to ascend to his role as the future king of the universe.

3)  Medusa, Clash of the Titans (1981)

 When I saw the first Clash of the Titans movie as a kid, there were a number of scenes that were pretty frightening (and cool- the Stygian witches, fights with Calibos, the giant scorpions, the Kraken, etc.).   The scenes where Perseus fought Medusa were the most frightening to me, though.   I remember thinking that Medusa's lair was really scary (all of her stone victims scattered around like statues), and I couldn't imagine how anyone could fight a monster that they couldn't even look at.  The solution, of course, found in watching Medusa's reflection in a shield and then chopping off her head, struck me as so brilliant that I'm still impressed by it almost thirty years later.  Anyway, in a movie full of scary monsters, to me Medusa was the scariest.  Although the movie seems a bit silly and cheesy nowadays, as a kid it really got my heart thumping, and it taught me an important lesson- the qualities of your monsters can help to determine the quality of your heroes. 

4)  Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Jason and is crew roll to prom
Gotta stick with this one.  Killer shadow puppets, deadly cream pies, cotton candy nets, big top spaceships, and deadly balloon animals.  What's not to like?  Plus, this is the perfect movie for the tried and true plotline where the square adults just won't believe anything that the kids tell them- no matter how hard the kids try to warn them.  This movie is just a whole lot of fun- AND there's still something that's still genuinely creepy about those clowns (klowns).

There's my new, revised list.  Throw out the old one.  I'm not sure what I was thinking.

5.  Slippery Pete

My least favorite monster is my housemate, Slippery Pete.  He wants to kill me.

the stone cold face of a killer

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Monstering it Up

We've received quite a few Monster posts, and I hope we get a few more! (The Admiral is even threatening to participate).

A short while ago someone suggested I try eating Franken Berry Cereal while watching a Frankenstein movie.

We do requests!

Mission accomplished

We're going to call this a rebuilding year

Wow.  So, I admit that as a University of Texas fan and alum, its been a while since I've seen my team play like a bunch of mediocre chowderheads.  But today, play like a bunch of mediocre chowderheads they did. 

I had guessed UT would win by 14 points, even though the line was 20, last I checked.  We were at home, we'd just beat Nebraska and we were playing an unranked Iowa State, a team we have ALWAYS been able to beat. 

But from the start of Iowa State's second possession, we looked like a team that was just not ready to play football.  I don't know if the morning's iffy weather had confused our players, if they had practiced against a local middle-school all week, or what...  I suspect that the team had the same lazy attitude that they had approaching UCLA. 

I confess I almost found myself dropping the "we" from my discussion about UT, distancing myself from the team in a way that I don't do when UT is winning.  But, you know, I'm a Texas fan.  I'm going to do my best to continue saying "we".  Good times and bad and all that stuff.

Anyhow, I was actually at the game in the rain today, so my patience with this whole debacle was not terrific.  I did get a little more perspective seeing how plays seemed to unfold and how the team looked in general in a way that TV sometimes can't show as they cut to commercials, replays, etc...  and they just looked oddly...  slow.  Like they just didn't have their act together.

As a fan, I want to see us use the talent and skill we've got that seems to be squandered.  I will disagree from some of the TV commentators after what I saw today: I am beginning to wonder about Gilbert.  Seeing him live, he just didn't seem to know where to throw the ball far too often if the play didn't fall out exactly as he expected, and when he did release, it was kind of near the receivers, but not quite to the receivers. 

Am I one of those guys who blames Greg Davis, our offensive coordinator? Oh, absolutely.

I have no idea what to expect out of the Longhorns anymore this season, but by gum I am not giving up. There's too much well recruited talent, and I think we can make adjustments. But this team is going to have to do better, and the coaches are flat out going to have to quit going to back to the same playbook everyone has already seen for the last 10 years at UT.

Here's a quick report on the game.

Friday, October 22, 2010

UT plays Iowa State Tomorrow: And I will be there!

On Saturday the mighty Longhorns of the University of Texas will take on the Cyclones of Iowa State. 

The game is at 11:00 Central, so its the morning game here in Texas (I assume Fantomenos will be asleep at kick-off).  I'm slated to attend with The Admiral, Matt and Nicole. 

I like UT's chances.  At home.  Coming off a win and returning to a ranked status.  Playing Iowa State.

And tomorrow is supposed to be a high of something like 83F. 

Hopefully he same defense that played last week against Nebraska will show up, and the same Garrett Gilbert that added some wheels and tried this innovation called "The Forward Pass" will make an appearance.

Go Horns!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Apparently, I am genetically selected to take the bullet when and if it comes to that

In the wake of the September 28th near-miss with a gunman at the very large library where I'm officed (at a very large university), the campus police have been seriously reviewing the reaction of students, staff, faculty, themselves, Austin PD, etc...  And they are making definite improvements.

So, today the Campus PD offered up a training session in my building to discuss the "Active Shooter" situation.  Basically it boils down to three options:

Figure out if you can get away
  1. if you can, do so
  2. if you can't, hide, try to secure the door and spread out
  3. if the gunman finds you, arm yourself with whatever is handy
I know this sounds pretty wacky, but here's the thing:  I think we all watch a lot of movies and we hope that we see the heroes get out of the scenario alive.  Everyone else who didn't?  A sad case, but... as we're the heroes in our own minds, we figure we'll pull through one way or another.

People asked a lot of questions, and you sort of were able to gather from the discussion who you did and did not want around you should an emergency situation arise again. 

The bottom line is that the cops don't know any tricks other than "use common sense", and they'll tell you that.*  There's no magic movie-hero secret to pulling through this thing.  The cops themselves have changed their tactics after Columbine (they don't set up perimeters anymore, they go in), and 9/11 taught all of us that we may be responsible for ourselves and others, thus #3 above.  And what they were really asking was that we think of a few plans, which...  may have been a bit much for a few in the room.

At some point we got down to the whole "you're trapped, now what?" scenario, and the officer was frank about assigning roles and finding heavy and solid items to throw at a gunman to at least slow them down.  I am a fairly large guy.  6'5" and fairly broad of shoulder.  And despite the fact I was kind of hiding in the back of the room of 50 people, the PD pointed me out and basically said "and you're going to want to assign this guy here...  he's going to have to go after the shooter if he enters the room."

Apparently being the largest and slowest moving target in the room just got me put on human shield duty for the library.  Sweet.

I don't know what this guy thought when he looked at me, but guns just really, really change the playing field.  When I get shot, I assume I will still totally bleed all over the place.  I am in no rush to ruin any of my t-shirts or jeans.  I also will die remarkably similarly to smaller people but require a 3XLT coffin.

I get it, I get it.  When we all go caveman, Largest Man must fight Fang Tiger when it comes to stalk the tribe.  And I'm also going to be able to hold the door closed a lot more convincingly than some of the dainty people in cataloging.  But don't expect me to get all enthused.  There will be no boons bestowed upon Largest Man for jumping Scary Man with Boom Stick. 

Straight up, I'm a pacifist because I can afford to be one.  I'm a 21st Century American who considers a physical threat to be a needle when they draw blood.  I'm a soft, pink desk-jockey who depends on geography, technology and economy to keep me from worrying about bandits, hooligans or roving bands of Mad Max bad guys.  I am not sure I'm ready to have a room full of terrified librarians hiding under desks somewhere down the road looking at me and saying "the cop said you had to fight the guy with the gun.  Go, Big Man."**

Good golly, how this "active shooter" business is messy.  But the messiest part is that the PD basically acknowledged that they know most people are going to make bad choices.  And given what I know of students, its kind of scary to consider what could go wrong (let's just say they don't take fire drills super seriously).

Anyhow, none of us want to think life or death situation when we think about our office. I'd like to think my efforts could save the day, but...  anyway. 

* however, "common sense" is not something you can teach in a 2 hour seminar
** they always call you Big Man, when people are delivering bad news

When the Price is Right, I Will Own a Copy of "Legends of the Super Heroes"

I am not sure I have a whole $20 plus S&H to get my hands on the bizarre 1970's attempt by DC Comics to keep their superheroes on television screens.  If you haven't seen Legends of the Super Heroes, you're probably going to still get through life okay, but your life will be a bit poorer for it.  Like a lot of comic dorks, I've seen a bootleg copy of a beta-max tape transferred to VHS and all the quality one would expect of that VHS tape after it sitting on the shelf for 10 years at Vulcan Video.

The show is a live action program starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman & Robin.  It also features Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, Black Canary and, I think, Hawkman, as well as other DC properties.  And their villains.  Younger readers will not remember the heyday of 70's era Hollywood where Burt Reynolds defined cool, but if you remember Burt Reynolds drunkenly cackling his way through a segment on Johnny Carson, then you'll understand the tone of Legends of the Super Heroes.  

Folks under the age of 25 will be surprised to learn that there was a time and place where superheroes were considered a goofy kids' past time, and there's definitely a vibe on the show that these actors are barely containing their laughter the same way you do when you show up for a costume party and see your friends dressed as gorillas or when you see your friends in pilgrim costumes for the first time in the dress rehearsals for a high school production of The Crucible.*

Only two episodes were produced, but fans older than myself have terrific memories of watching the show (I was two young, I guess). 

It may not be as bad as The Star Wars Holiday Special (which is like spending two hours with your head in a chicken cage with three angry chickens), but the world was not ready for-live action Dr. Sivana and Mordru when this show was produced.

Warner Bros. apparently noticed people were paying money for this thing at cons in pirated copies and/ or the hit count on YouTube must have achieved the right number of hits and figured people would pay good dollars for a decent copy.  Warner Bros. has started an interesting service wherein they print DVDs on-demand.  While you wind up paying more, its meant WB has been able to open their vaults and quit worrying about selling X numbers of copies in order to make a print-run worth doing.

I am not sure $20 plus S&H is the amount I am willing to pay for self-inflicted pain.  Maybe...  $8.99. 

Fortunately, WB periodically runs deals on their archive DVDs, so sooner or later the thing will be more easily available.  But if they wanted to send me a review copy, I wouldn't say "no".  I'm just saying, WB.

For more on the video:

Progressive Ruin

*well, I thought it was funny

Don't forget to send in your Favorite/ Least Favorite Monster

"Tiger Beat" for the undead

The official deadline for submitting your Monsters is October 22nd. Unofficially, we're pretty flexible and encourage you to send it in right up until October 28th or so.

We've gotten some great entries!  Be a part of the fun and send in your entry!

Every entrant will receive a Signal Watch Fun Pack!

For info on what to submit, click here!